Arlington House - Robert E. Lee Memorial
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Free History For Your Report
The Arlington House, located in Arlington, Virginia, is the site of the world-famous Arlington National Cemetery and also serves as a national memorial to General Robert E. Lee, a famous Confederate general during the American Civil War. The house itself, a Greek-style mansion, was constructed by George Washington Parke Custis, the step grandson of President George Washington, and was built overlooking the Potomac River. The mansion itself sits on a 1,100-acre piece of land, which Custis utilized to try and invent new methods and techniques of agriculture and animal raising. The building is comprised of two wings, the north and south, and these were constructed in only two years, being completed in 1804. It would take an additional 13 years to build and complete the center portion of the house and the estate’s large portico. The portico was one of the most intricate on any home of the time, and was designed by George Hatfield, the most prominent architect of the US Capitol Building. Custis had a large family, but only one child survived to have children of her own, and that was Mary Anna Randolph Custis, whom would eventually be a cousin to a very young Robert E. lee, whose visits to the estate were frequent. The two cousins would eventually be married upon Lee’s graduation from West Point. After their marriage, they lived at Arlington House along with Custis’ parents. Upon her parent’s passing, the house was willed to the Lee’s and their next of kin.
American Civil War broke out in 1861, and left General Lee in a conflict of interest. He had loyally served the US Army his whole life, but the State of Virginia had seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. It is inside the Arlington House where Lee wrote his famous letter announcing his resignation from the Union, and where he sealed his fate in joining the ranks of his fellow Virginians in the Confederacy. The Lee’s temporarily vacated their famous residence for safety reasons, and it was taken over by the government as a temporary base to house commanding headquarters in an effort to protect nearby Washington, D.C.
Near the end of the Civil War, many Union leaders had felt betrayed by Lee’s actions in abandoning the US Army and fighting for the Confederacy. To officially declare his own personal disgust, Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs decided to take advantage of the Arlington estate’s sprawling property as the grounds for a new cemetery. His hope was to offend General Lee to the point that he would never return to live in the estate. The first 26 graves were ordered to be dug right next to the front entrance of the property and in the estate’s rose gardens. Shortly after, Meigs’ son was killed in one of the Civil War’s final battles, and subsequently laid to rest at the new cemetery. The Union declared the new grounds to be Arlington National Cemetery, and seized the mansion and surrounding land, claiming that the Lee’s had let their taxes fall behind while not in residence. The Lee’s never returned to residency, and General Lee himself never set foot on the grounds again. The Lee’s never fought the legality of the seizing, but the general’s oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, did (he was willed to receive the house as the next of kin). A lawsuit was filed by the younger Lee in 1870, and was finally settled by the Supreme Court twelve years later when they awarded him $150,000.00 as current day market value for the property. In 1920, the county government changed the name of the surrounding land from Alexandria County to Arlington County in order to honor the general, and the mansion home was dedicated by Congress to be a fully-restored memorial museum to the life and war efforts of General Robert E. Lee in 1955.
Today, the Arlington House / Robert E. Lee Memorial is operated by the National Park Service, and can be visited daily. A complete restoration of the interior of the house began in 2007, and is expected to be completed by 2010. The surrounding grounds which Custis once used for agriculture is still in use as the Arlington National Cemetery, and plays host to an average of 20 funerals a day for America’s military heroes.